Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
NASA Space Science

What Will NASA Do With Its Gifted Spy 'Scopes? 129

Posted by Soulskill
from the regift-them-to-spacex dept.
astroengine writes "NASA has begun surveying scientists on what they would like to do with two Hubble-class space telescopes donated to the civilian space agency by its secretive sibling, the National Reconnaissance Office — which operates the nation's spy satellites. But the gifts have some formidable strings attached, including costs to develop instruments and launch the observatories. The telescopes, though declassified, also are subject to export regulations. 'We need to retain possession and control,' NASA's astrophysics division director Paul Hertz told Discovery News. 'That doesn't preclude us from partnering (with other countries). It just sets boundaries on the nature of the partnership.' NASA also isn't allowed to use the telescopes for any Earth-observing missions. Topping the list of possible missions for the donor hardware is a remake of NASA's planned Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, known as WFIRST. The mission, estimated to cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, is intended to answer questions about dark energy, a relatively recently discovered phenomenon that is believed to be speeding up the universe's rate of expansion."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

What Will NASA Do With Its Gifted Spy 'Scopes?

Comments Filter:
  • Thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:31PM (#42107435)

    The scientific community fights for years over one Hubble telescope - and some shady agency has two?

    They can afford to "give them away" now. Probably because they have something much better now?

    Am I the only one who thinks there is something simply "wrong" with all this? (And yes, I find it good those things are *now*, better: *finally*, used for science)

    • Re:Thoughts (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jfdavis668 (1414919) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:36PM (#42107483)
      I don't know where I found out, but I knew soon after Hubble that the more were made for spy missions. It has been known for quite a while, just doesn't seem to be general knowledge.
    • Re:Thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

      by X0563511 (793323) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:37PM (#42107495) Homepage Journal

      These were designed to look down. Of course they have something better now. If you don't think they can't read the headlines on your newspapers from space you're mistaken.

      I don't see anything wrong with this. When you have other superpowers threatening to glass your country, seeing where they are putting those munitions and such is mandatory.

      The world is not a utopia. We need espionage, if only to try to see it coming.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        These were designed to look down. Of course they have something better now. If you don't think they can't read the headlines on your newspapers from space you're mistaken.

        The newspaper? How about the date on a dime, through your roof -- or even better.

        • Re:Thoughts (Score:5, Funny)

          by Dins (2538550) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @03:13PM (#42107913)
          Citizen #312374213 we've noticed a suspicious looking mole on your left upper thigh. You might want to get that checked out...
          • I know you're trying to scare me, but that actually sounds really useful.
          • by bware (148533)

            I actually do have a suspicious looking mole on my left upper thigh, you insensitive clod!

            Now I know both my citizen number and that the tinfoil hat isn't working...

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          ...I think you're confusing science fiction with reality there. Unless the government has been amazing at hiding insanely advanced science and technology from the rest of us(and keep in mind, they have a hell of a time hiding a *sex scandal*), it is actually impossible to read anything through a roof from space. You can zoom in all you like(not actually true, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt here.) All you'll get is a better image of the roof.

          Sci-fi writers, myself included, can generally get aw

      • Priorities (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Comboman (895500) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:47PM (#42107599)

        No one is claiming that espionage is not necessary. It's just disturbing that NASA is a constant target of budget cuts and has been struggling to keep it's single space telescope operational for the last 20 years while the military has be sitting on two, unused, surplus space telescopes (that we know about).

        • Hubble isn't the only telescope NASA runs, or even the most powerful. FERMI, SWIFT, Spitzer, Chandra, ERO, and Kepler are just the ones I can name without Google's help, there's many more.

          They just don't produce pretty pictures in the optical frequency range like Hubble does.
      • by lordofthechia (598872) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @03:18PM (#42107971)

        If these can be calibrated to work as regular telescopes, then we need *Stereo* images of all the galaxies and nebulae!

          It's about time NASA got on the 3D bandwagon!

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Stereo imaging has the added benefit of allowing the removal of glare from images, besides the cool 3D effect... Glare removal is especially helpful in viewing planets as they cross their sun. I think there's some land based telescopes that have or are attempting this.

        • You don't need two telescopes to do 'stereo'. You can use the fact that the telescope is moving in space [wikipedia.org].

          • by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2@nOsPAM.gdargaud.net> on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @04:12PM (#42108613) Homepage

            You don't need two telescopes to do 'stereo'. You can use the fact that the telescope is moving in space [wikipedia.org].

            Unless you want to do interferometry. I don't know if long base optical interferometry is feasible. I know that the VLT in Chile is designed to do it but that they had a hell of a time to calibrate it. I would be beyond awesome to have those two babies in opposite solar orbits doing optical interferometry. Well, I'm probably dreaming as it would mean maintaining them fixed in respect to one another to one quarter wavelength of observed light... Or somesuch.

            • by ceoyoyo (59147)

              It's not. Yet. Current optical interferometry requires a fibre optic link between the telescopes because the light has to physically interfere.

              • Well then: who volunteers to draw the cable from L4 to L5?

              • by bware (148533)

                You don't need either optical interference nor a fiber optic link to do quite sensitive interferometry.

                For an example of interferometry without optical interference, LISA would have used Time Delay Interferometry. Now cancelled, even though it rated highly in the decadal.

                TPF-I was a white light interferometer with no physical connection between the separated spacecraft.

                To name two.

        • by Convector (897502) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @04:52PM (#42109109)

          You're not going to get enough parallax on something as distant as a galaxy to be useful for stereo imaging. If you place these in Earth orbit, on opposite sides of the Earth, you're looking at on order 10000 km separation. The distance to the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy (let's call that the nearest one) is 25,000 ly, or on order 10^17 km. That gives you a parallax of 20 nano-arcseconds. Hubble's diffraction limited resolution is 50 milli-arcseconds. (Interferometry won't help here, since we're trying to compare two distinct images from individual telescopes).

          There are closer nebulae. The Orion nebula is only 1300 ly away, so we're looking at a parallax of 0.2 micro-arcseconds. Still not enough.

          If, as another poster suggested, we put them at L4 and L5 (Sun-Earth), we're talking more like a few times 10^8 km separation. So that puts us in the few milliarcsecond range for the Orion nebula. Not quite good enough for visible light, but UV could work.

          • Hah I know, I was just being facetious. Figured most people would think about how "3D" the stars and moon look to them in real life and catch the joke.

            • by Convector (897502)

              Not at all; I think that would be a cool project. It just requires a larger baseline than the Earth's orbit and/or larger telescopes. Drop these at the Sun-Neptune Lagrange points, and it might work for the nebulae.

        • Many large telescopes already use multiple dishes. But the base you need to actually get stereoscopic views on astronomical distances is outrageous. Of course, that is precisely what WFIRST and its ilk are for...
      • by Clomer (644284)
        Something to keep in mind is that spy satellites looking down have the same problem that astronomical ground-based telescopes have looking up. Specifically, they have to look through the atmosphere, and the distortion that causes puts a pretty firm upper limit on how clear images can be. Yes, there are tricks that can be done to minimize the issue, but those tricks only go so far. I doubt they'll ever be able to read a newspaper from orbit.

        That's why Hubble was useful in the first place. As a telescope, i
        • Re:Thoughts (Score:5, Informative)

          by Strider- (39683) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @04:00PM (#42108451)

          That's why Hubble was useful in the first place. As a telescope, it's not that impressive - far bigger and fancier ones exist. What sets it apart is that it is above all that atmospheric interference.

          Well, not quite... the adaptive optics on modern ground-based telescopes can deal with much of the problems associated with atmospherics. The real win with Hubble is that a) it can look in wavelengths that are heavily attenuated by the atmosphere (Think UV and Infrared) and b) it can stare at a target, continuously, for very long periods of time. Earth-based telescopes are (obviously) limited to observing at night, while Hubble can continuously observe a large portion of the sky on a continual basis (24 hours, 36, whatever). This is especially important when you're trying to observe extremely dim targets who's brightness can be measured in photons per minute.

          • Actually, HST has a 96 minute orbital period around the Earth, so it cannot stare continuously. But it can coadd several exposures over several orbits.

            The real advantage of HST is that it is diffraction limited even on very faint objects (adaptive optics requires bright guide stars; even laser-guide-star adaptive optics needs a relatively bright natural star for the first-order correction) and the background light is much lower.

      • by lennier (44736)

        If you don't think they can't read the headlines on your newspapers from space you're mistaken.

        Okay, so if I do think they can read the headlines... hold on... add the one, carry the zero, interpolate the spline... I'm still mistaken?

      • That's a very good point - looking down. The luminance levels from earth are MUCH brighter than a distant object. I once heard (translation: totally unverified) that the Hubble team had to be careful not to aim it a the moon because it could overload and/or the sensor. So what will the try to image with it?
        • by LurkerXXX (667952)

          Hey, I've got a bridge in New York I'm looking to sell, and you sound like just the right buyer...

          The Hubble is based off Spy Satellite tech. Those can stare at clouds on the earth (not much dimmer than reflections off the moon) with no problems.

          Oh, and if you don't believe someone trying to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, then there's this...

          http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/solarsystem/hubble_moon.html [nasa.gov]

          • by Marillion (33728)
            Excellent to know about Hubble. It's a shame too, I hear the bridges in New York are cheaper now because of the flood ...
    • Re:Thoughts (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SJHillman (1966756) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:39PM (#42107515)

      NASA has a tiny budget compared to military and intelligence, so it's no surprise that gear NASA has to fight to fund can be given away as surplus or obsolete by another agency.

      I'm just glad, and a bit surprised, the 'free' telescopes weren't scrapped or left to rust in some military warehouse.

      • by Hatta (162192)

        NASA has a tiny budget compared to military and intelligence

        That's the problem. Education and science always take a back seat to warfare. It doesn't have to be that way.

    • Never attribute to malice, what can be easily explained by incompetence.

      These telescopes are still here, on the ground. This makes me assume they were *never* in space, as retrieval would be very costly, and apparently pointless if they have no use for them.

      They either have several more up in space, or they were never able to get them up and running in the first place.

      • Don't give them to NYC. They won't bother to take care of them or handle them properly.
      • by Jeng (926980)

        They could also be spares in case of launch failures.

      • Re:Thoughts (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @03:17PM (#42107963)

        Because there is a requirement to maintain a certain amount of capability (so if a spy satellite fails, they need to have a spare to launch to replace it in short order), and the long lead times (say 5 to 10 years) to build these satellites, the DoD orders a number of satellites, and some of them may possibly never actually end up being flight vehicles.

        These two satellite 'cores' are just such spares. They weren't launched because a new generation of spy satellites were put into operation before these were needed. There are probably no other examples of these things still in orbit, though the model was probably used for a decade or more.

        Remember, NASA wasn't given two completed satellites, they were given two mirror assembly's and the associated bus and structure. It is up to NASA to design and build a useful science satellite with them.

        As to the DoD having something better, they probably do, but it isn't the mirror that is better, it's that the bus and structure will be of a different design. Optically, the limitation on a downward looking spy satellite will be the atmosphere, not the mirror or other associated optical components.

        • Because there is a requirement to maintain a certain amount of capability (so if a spy satellite fails, they need to have a spare to launch to replace it in short order), and the long lead times (say 5 to 10 years) to build these satellites, the DoD orders a number of satellites, and some of them may possibly never actually end up being flight vehicles.

          These two satellite 'cores' are just such spares. They weren't launched because a new generation of spy satellites were put into operation before these were needed. There are probably no other examples of these things still in orbit, though the model was probably used for a decade or more.

          Remember, NASA wasn't given two completed satellites, they were given two mirror assembly's and the associated bus and structure. It is up to NASA to design and build a useful science satellite with them.

          As to the DoD having something better, they probably do, but it isn't the mirror that is better, it's that the bus and structure will be of a different design. Optically, the limitation on a downward looking spy satellite will be the atmosphere, not the mirror or other associated optical components.

          The sad part is that you are exactly correct. There must be a bunch of warehouses with all sorts of 'fun' stuff. Too bad we'll never see it.

          • Even sadder is that, with the ongoing budget cuts, it's possible that those satellites won't be launched. It's just in brainstorming phase, where propositions are being made, and if something sufficiently scientifically compelling to worth the resources is proposed, then _maybe_ it will proceed to planning phase.

      • by MickLinux (579158)

        They're hereon the ground.

        Now I understand how they were able to read your newspaper headlines. I thought optical resolution limits prevented that, practically speaking.But I had never considered that they might just truck their hubble scopes from one part of the country to another.

        I'll have to keep an eye out for neighbors or g-men at the next table who have a suspicious-looking hubble next to their coffee. You never know when the NSA might be interested in subversive elements of your breakfast cereal.

    • by mhajicek (1582795)
      So launch into space isn't export?
    • it's called "reality is ugly and not a cuddly puppy"

    • by Bo'Bob'O (95398)

      We spend almost as much on the NRO alone the NASA's whole budget and it only does one thing: spy satellites. NASA gets just a few billion more and does a whole range of things, rovers, space station, weather and aeronautics research, long term research in a verity of fields at what is suppose to be the vangaurd of US Science. So yes, I think there is something wrong with all this too.

      National Reconnaissance Office Budget for 2010: ~$15 Billion
      NASA Budget for 2010: $18.7 Billion

    • by Dr La (1342733) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @04:06PM (#42108527) Homepage
      The telescopes in question are not "surplus": it consists of never finished hardware from the aborted optical component of FIA (Future Imagery Architecture). This optical FIA component, intended to replace the Keyhole system, was scrapped because of massive budget overruns. Part of the hardware was already built by that time, and that is what now has been donated to NASA. It never were complete telescopes, let alone "surplus"telescopes.
    • The scientific community fights for years over one Hubble telescope - and some shady agency has two?

      They can afford to "give them away" now. Probably because they have something much better now?

      Am I the only one who thinks there is something simply "wrong" with all this? (And yes, I find it good those things are *now*, better: *finally*, used for science)

      No, some shady agency does not have two. They have two surplus and obsolete (for their purposes) telescopes that were never launched. The NRO had many, many more than two such satellites in actual operation, and now we are being told those are no longer cutting edge, so they definitely have something much better.

      There is a saying in astronomy that you cannot compare ground-observatory project costs to space-observatory project costs (every grad student ever has pointed out "for the cost of HST, imagine th

      • by khallow (566160)

        There is a saying in astronomy that you cannot compare ground-observatory project costs to space-observatory project costs (every grad student ever has pointed out "for the cost of HST, imagine the huge telescope we could have built on the ground!" only to be rebuked with "space dollars are not the same as ground dollars). Similarly, military dollars are not the same as space dollars are not the same as ground dollars. Otherwise, one could naively say "for just the cost of one F22, we could have paid for XYZ science program by now."

        And that's one reason why I divide the cost of a NASA project by ten to get a better idea of how much the project actually costs. Because one really could get a lot for the cost of a F22 ($150 million), but not from NASA.

    • by khallow (566160)

      Am I the only one who thinks there is something simply "wrong" with all this?

      Obviously not, but it is worth noting that those spy satellites provide more value for the money spent to the US than NASA's space-related activities.

    • Think of it the other way round; we need two Hubbles protecting us to be able to have one for science. War, greed and all in the mix are far more intrinsically human than science.
  • by Trepidity (597) <.gro.hsikcah. .ta. .todhsals-muiriled.> on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:40PM (#42107543)

    For those who missed the original donation, here was the /. discussion of that [slashdot.org]. It seems the main update is that they've now taken a bunch of suggestions and are prioritizing them.

  • by vinn (4370) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:43PM (#42107561) Homepage Journal

    With the Mars Odyssey dying a slow death, NASA is desperately going to need a new craft just to act as a communications relay. Outfit one of these things with the comm equipment and send it to Mars. Put some (flight-rated) commodity image processing onboard and we get a nice set up for better imaging of Mars.

    Of course, there's probably a million things that would be problematic with all that, not the least of which is the thing probably isn't rated for flying that far and might need a special delivery craft to get it there. However, as far as size goes, it should have more than enough capacity on the power side and on the internal space to handle a mission that far.

  • First they have to remove all the images of Vladamir P. taking dumps.

  • NASA deals with ITAR all the time.
  • by guises (2423402) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:45PM (#42107591)
    I'm delighted to hear that while NASA is underfunded to the point where they've needed to cancel maintenance of the Hubble and the James Webb telescope is on the verge of being scrapped, our spy organization is so overflowing with money that they can make two Hubble equivalents which are, apparently, redundant next to all of their other money and toys.
    • Re:Priorities (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lennier (44736) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @05:19PM (#42109405) Homepage

      I'm delighted to hear that while NASA is underfunded to the point where they've needed to cancel maintenance of the Hubble and the James Webb telescope is on the verge of being scrapped, our spy organization is so overflowing with money that they can make two Hubble equivalents which are, apparently, redundant next to all of their other money and toys.

      Well, yes. Who did you think paid all the R&D bills for space in the first place?

      The Mercury capsules were launched on ICBMs, remember. And with shenanigans like GRAB [wikipedia.org] going on since 1960, one could be forgiven for wondering if there have ever been any actual "pure science" missions in the US space fleet at all.

      The dual-use of "civilian" spaceflight and the primacy of military uses for space has never been a secret, most of this information is open-source and available in plenty of dry academic websites [fas.org] if you really want to know. But much of the US citizenry seem to enjoy believing in a gentle apolitical space fairy which exists only to take harmless pictures of nebulae and launch GPS and Internet relay satellites. It seems easier than confronting the funding reality.

      Same as the National Ignition Facility [wikipedia.org] exists for "fusion power research" in the brochures. There is a lot of power generated in a boosted fission weapon, so technically it's not a lie.

  • I wonder if these also have the "Flawed Mirror" that the Hubble had.

    I also wonder if that flaw helped the telescope view the earth rather than the stars.

    • by Strider- (39683)

      The flaw on Hubble's main mirror is one of Spherical Aberration. Basically, the light bouncing off the mirror's surface doesn't actually converge at a point, but rather in a line. It doesn't matter whether you're looking at the ground, or at the stars, spherical aberration is still bad.

    • I wonder if these also have the "Flawed Mirror" that the Hubble had.

      The Hubble mirror was developed around the same time the Pentium P5 came out. Coincidence?

  • by TheAngryMob (49125) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:50PM (#42107643) Homepage

    Just point them at key members' of Congress' homes for a while. Then, when budget reviews come up, NASA simply goes to Congress with a thumb drive. "We need funding for a new Mars mission, Senator. If not, we'll have to start selling some of these picture-filled drives to the public to offset the costs. Wouldn't it be a damn shame if certain images of that high school cheerleading squad coming and going from your house at all hours of the night were to...accidentally...end up on the Internet? That would be a damn, criminal, shame...wouldn't it, Senator?"

    • by NettiWelho (1147351) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @03:05PM (#42107819)

      Just point them at key members' of Congress' homes for a while. Then, when budget reviews come up, NASA simply goes to Congress with a thumb drive. "We need funding for a new Mars mission, Senator. If not, we'll have to start selling some of these picture-filled drives to the public to offset the costs. Wouldn't it be a damn shame if certain images of that high school cheerleading squad coming and going from your house at all hours of the night were to...accidentally...end up on the Internet? That would be a damn, criminal, shame...wouldn't it, Senator?"

      >Coming up on 10 o'clock news: A senior NASA official died today in a strange car accident...

      • > Breaking news: A Senator's home was hit by a rogue meteorite today, killing everyone inside.

        You probably don't want to mess with people with access to the top of the well when you live at the bottom of it.

        • >This just in; In a freak incident NASA HQ gets attacked by an armada of rogue Predator drones armed with hellfire missiles. Anonymous CIA source says Iranian hackers are thought be to involved.
      • It appeared that he was trying to swerve to avoid the falling debris of NASA's new imaging satellite which was accidentally shot out of the sky by an Ageis anti-ballistic missile this morning. What a tragedy.

    • by Jeng (926980)

      If said hypothetical senator is smart he'll just publicly point out that NASA is spying on US citizens and all those involved at NASA will be spending the rest of their lives in jail as the agency is dismantled.

      It is very rare that anyone really cares if a politician is fucking around.

      • If said hypothetical senator is smart he'll just publicly point out that NASA is spying on US citizens and all those involved at NASA will be spending the rest of their lives in jail as the agency is dismantled.

        It is very rare that anyone really cares if a politician is fucking around.

        All right, at the risk on sounding stupid: why is it so tightly held secret then?

        • by Jeng (926980)

          Well you wouldn't want your wife knowing, but if you are being blackmailed at that level whether or not your wife knows is the lesser issue.

          Clinton is a good example, he fucked around a lot and the thing he got in trouble for was lying about it, not the deed itself. And his base did not care one bit because he was doing a great job otherwise.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Thus why one of the conditions was that NASA not use them for Earth observing.

  • > two Hubble-class space telescopes donated to the civilian space agency

    "First rule of government spending: Why build one when you can have three for three times the price?"

    • R&D costs are far more than production costs.
    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      Because never in all of space launches has a launch failed in a way that destroys the payload and hence you should just build the dozen you need and not a couple of extras just in case a rocket goes boom in the wrong fashion.

  • Are you kidding, -two- Hubble class telescopes.

    Dig deep into everyone's pockets, and launch them to the L4 and L5 LaGrangian points (Earth-Solar), and make a whopping big interferometer out of them.

    • How about using the same positions, but for stereoscopic ultra high res search and mapping of near Earth objects? [nasa.gov]
      • by dargaud (518470)

        How about using the same positions, but for stereoscopic ultra high res search and mapping of near Earth objects? [nasa.gov]

        It would be better to place them near the sun in that case. And I'm not sure that their optical formula is the best for _finding_ objects. You want a wide field for that.

    • by agm (467017)

      Are you kidding, -two- Hubble class telescopes.

      Dig deep into everyone's pockets, and launch them to the L4 and L5 LaGrangian points (Earth-Solar), and make a whopping big interferometer out of them.

      Is "digging deep into everyone's pockets" a euphemism for "take more tax off people"? If so then I want no part of it. It's a major scam that the state can tax people to pay for these telescopes, then when they're no longer needed then simply give them away. Surely they should be sold and the proceeds be given *back* to the taxpayers that paid for them (in proportion to how they were taxed).

      Having powerful receivers at L4 and L5 is a great idea though.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Problem is, we can't do VLBI at optical wavelengths yet.

      Also, what is it you'd like to measure the size of?

  • World's biggest.

    Just don't loan them to my kid. He always screws with the focus.

  • I would point it at Jessica Biels ass to get a better look.
  • Sounds a little corporate, but I think everyone would benefit from *free* access to street-view quality satellite photos that are in the public domain. And maybe even, oh I don't know, updated regularly?
  • The Hubble Telescope has done great science. It's successor in time is the James Webb Telescope but the Webb is designed to scan the sky in a very different part of the spectrum. The Atlas Telescope is supposed to be it's successor in functionality. The design goal for the Atlas Telescope is more than three orders of magnitude better than Hubble. We better spend our money on such a telescope than on a Hubble v 1.1.
  • Under NASA ( National All Seeing Administration )

Put your Nose to the Grindstone! -- Amalgamated Plastic Surgeons and Toolmakers, Ltd.

Working...